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If you showed Batman the virtual alleyways of the internet, he’d have his hands full fighting villains like credit card crooks, identity thieves and malware hackers. You might say it takes a superhero to battle online crime, and for Michael Franklin, Irvine Valley College was the birth of an origin story.

It all started his senior year of high school, where he and his cybersecurity team turned one friend’s garage into a virtual “Batcave” full of high-tech gear.

“Honestly, it felt like we were starting up Apple in a garage,” says Franklin, a team captain and one of the founders of his school’s CyberPatriot club.

Part of a nationwide cyber education program for middle and high school students, CyberPatriot puts on the largest cyber defense competition in the country. For Franklin, the club was the perfect place to get real-world skills in securing virtual networks and exploring future cyber careers. “We were just a small group of run-of-the-mill teenagers who wanted to explore cybersecurity,” recalls Franklin.

The club had limited support from their high school, so they trained themselves. Through hard work and determination, the team achieved the extraordinary feat of advancing to the CyberPatriot semi-finals.

“This was a huge accomplishment for us,” shares Franklin, especially because the team was pitted against others from technical high schools devoted to the subject, while his team was largely self-taught. “We were written up in the high school newspaper.”

But to go further, Franklin knew the club would need more guidance. That’s when he heard that Irvine Valley College was not only offering free training and resources for regional CyberPatriot clubs, but also hosting competitions.

It was the day the team hooked up with IVC that Franklin’s new life in cybersecurity took off.

At the College, Franklin met Michael Salviani, CyberPatriot coordinator and Computer Information Management professor, who opened Franklin’s eyes to IVC’s IT courses. To enhance his cybersecurity game, Franklin started with the Computer Essentials night class while still in high school. As a result, he earned the CompTIA A+ certificate, a cornerstone credential for the IT and computer industries.

“It was a good opportunity to get a head start,” says Franklin, who respected Salviani’s depth of knowledge so much, he enrolled in every one of the professor’s classes. “I am grateful for him and the opportunity to take that [first] class.

“He has a vast amount of knowledge that I was able to learn.”

It didn’t take long for Franklin to start giving back. According to Salviani, his star pupil has become a mentor to other students, especially in the past year as the Regional CyberPatriot Technical Coordinator for Orange County.

“He’s one of my best students,” the professor boasts.

Franklin’s success has led to a job opportunity with the Strong Workforce-funded Southern California Cybersecurity Community College Consortium, an officially designated CyberPatriot Center of Excellence. As a coordinator, his work involves developing learning resources and sharing curriculum between Consortium members IVC, Coastline College and Cypress College.

“I’m out there teaching fellow students and middle school and high school students,” says Franklin, whose role is housed at Coastline College. “It’s my life now.” 

As a teacher and club advisor, Franklin brings a bold enthusiasm to match his competition-tempered experience. He’s delighted to have seen the clubs mushroom from 10 to 150 students in less than five years, and he expects that exponential growth to continue. As a community college student himself, he often reminds students of the rare, career-boosting resource that two-year institutions represent.

“I impart all of the knowledge that I have so that the younger generation doesn’t have to suffer as much as I did,” jokes Franklin, recalling the days before he discovered IVC’s supportive community.

His guidance is already upping IVC’s game: For the first time this year, IVC entered the CyberPatriot competition’s platinum tier, nearly advancing to the finals.

Franklin is also working hard to get the word out to local middle and high schools. As a CyberPatriot liaison, he’s encouraging students to take advantage of the community colleges’ support and launch new clubs.

“CyberPatriot and cybersecurity is a huge, huge opportunity that students may not know about in Orange County,” Franklin says about the burgeoning field, projected by Cybersecurity Ventures to create half a million unfilled jobs in the U.S. by 2021. “We still need to build up our educational system and put more people into the workforce to bridge that gap.”

As part of his coordinator duties this semester, Franklin has assisted in developing free regional workshops for IT industry certifications. Initially offered in a shorter format exclusively at Coastline College, the program has been expanded to serve Cypress and IVC students, through collaborative, eight-week workshops.

At the end, students take their certification exams. This semester, about 75 percent of students walked away with industry credentials that are good for life.

“These students are getting the education they need,” says Franklin. “They’re also getting a huge jumpstart in their careers.”

The certifications are geared toward entry-level IT jobs, according to Salviani, who is looking into integrating Franklin’s successful workshops for a new IVC class. “He’s a pioneer,” says the proud professor, who hopes his former student might be interested in teaching the course one day.

It’s a distinct possibility for Franklin, who says he’s gravitating toward teaching or working in a college’s IT department, after he earns his bachelor’s.

“I want to keep myself grounded to my roots here in Orange County,” he says, acknowledging the perfect circle that a return to IVC as an employee would represent.

Equally important to Franklin is the future of the CyberPatriot program. As Regional Coordinator, Franklin spends hours reaching out to local industry in search of support for the program and identifying possible grant opportunities to keep it going strong.

“IVC’s CyberPatriot program has grown exponentially over the years,” shares Franklin. “I would like to think my work is helping everyone.

“If I had a little bit of impact, I’m thankful.”

For Salviani’s money, Franklin’s impact has been more than just “a little.”

“He’s helped me tremendously,” says the professor. “A lot of the program’s success is because of him.”

From Franklin’s point of view, the more he’s given back to community colleges, the more he has received. According to the cybersecurity superhero, the past year’s experience as Regional Coordinator for his beloved CyberPatriot program ranks as one his best.

“When I grow old, I will definitely look back and say this was probably the best decision I ever made,” predicts Franklin. “The CyberPatriot program has definitely impacted me on my career choice and my future.”